Athletics Olympics

History Extra on Harry Edward: Britain’s first Black Olympic hero

For BBC’s History Extra, Sonia Grant profiled Harry Edward, the Black British Olympian won two bronze medals in the 100m and 200m at the Games in Antwerp 1920. But his German heritage led to a lot of uncomfortable surveillance:

Despite being German-born and with a German mother, Edward assumed the nationality of his father, as was customary at the time – the West Indies were then colonies of the British empire and Edward was, therefore, regarded as British. Consequently, he was classified as a potential alien combatant and monitored by special agents. Edward’s father avoided such scrutiny because he had been overseas working in a neutral country.

The situation changed drastically in October 1914 with a German communiqué. The ultimatum: 30,000 of Germany’s nationals in Britain, many of whom had been interned or had their properties and businesses vandalised, be granted safe passage home, or else there would be reprisals. It was ignored and, in retaliation, the German government proceeded to round up British subjects.

After being held in Germany, he was eventually repatriated to England (although his passport application was initially scrutinised by the British government—now where have I heard that before?) and found his way onto the track via jobs teaching French and German.

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